Thursday, 27 October 2016

Kent Fitness League

The Kent Fitness League is a series of seven non-elite cross-country races that take place in Kent each winter. It is open only to runners (first and second claim) that belong to one of the 18 member clubs.

Below you will find some information on each of the venues used for the series, including links to my GPS data and to any blogs that I have written about each race. I haven't run them all yet, so there are some gaps.

Website: Kent Fitness League

Knole Park, Sevenoaks
  • Course summary: Undulating course through the deer park. Features some hard standing paths.
  • Footwear: Trail shoes
  • GPS data: (My friend's course data from October 2015)
  • Blogs:

Swanley Park, New Barn Road, Swanley
  • Course summary:
  • Footwear:
  • GPS data: (My friend's course data from November 2015)
  • Blogs:

Oxleas Woods, Eltham
  • Course summary: Hilly and muddy. Almost entirely off-road - just a brief stretch on tarmac.
  • Footwear: spikes (the traction gained through the woods will make up for the brief period spent on tarmac)
  • GPS data: November 2014 (slight gps dropout)
  • Blogs: November 2014

Fowlmead, Sholden, Deal (venue renamed as 'Betteshanger Country Park')

Nurstead Court, Nurstead, Meopham
  • Course summary: Open fields, woodland, hills. Features a water splash.
  • Footwear: Spikes
  • GPS data: December 2014
  • Blogs: December 2014

Minnis Bay, Birchington
  • Course summary: Flat. Underfoot is generally quite firm, but the opening stretch can be very splashy. Features 6 water ditches (dykes) to run through - great fun. When the tide is out this race starts on the beach.
  • Footwear: Spikes / trail
  • GPS data: (My friend's course data from January 2016)
  • Blogs: January 2015

Blean Woods, Rough Common, Canterbury
  • Course summary: Mostly in the woods, which were not overly muddy during the 2015/16 season's race. Some stony hard standing paths to run on.
  • Footwear: Spikes or trail shoes
  • GPS data: February 2016
  • Blogs: February 2016

the eighteen affiliated clubs / colours [image: swanley and district ac]

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Canons Park parkrun

In the 13th century a vast estate occupied the land which is now the affluent residential London suburb of Canons Park. Its name came from the canons (or monks) of the Augustinian priory that occupied the site at the time. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the estate was sold into private hands.

A modest country house, 'Cannons', was built. When the estate was acquired by James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, in 1713 the house was enlarged, the formal gardens created, the grounds landscaped and impressive water features added. The 1st Duke was a patron of the arts and from 1717-1718 George Frideric Handel was the house composer and wrote some if his famous pieces of work here.

canons park [photos: 7t]

The house and grounds at this stage were so beautiful that large crowds of visitors flocked on a daily basis to gaze upon their magnificence (apparently a one-way system had to be put in place to manage the crowds). However, the family's finances were in trouble due the South Sea Bubble, a financial crash in 1720. The 1st Duke passed away in 1744 and the estate passed to his son Henry, 2nd Duke of Chandos. There was very little in the way of liquid assets in his inheritance and in 1747 he held a 12-day demolition sale where the contents and the very structure of the house were sold leaving a ruin.

The next owner of the estate, William Hallett built the current house in around 1760 on the foundations of 'Cannons' and changed the name to the current spelling (just one 'n') 'Canons House'. Over the years, the estate changed hands a number of times during which time 'The Temple' folly was constructed - it once had a glass palm house on the south front but now just the stone folly remains. There was also a period where the estate was under the ownership of William Harvey du Cros (who, along with John Boyd Dunlop, founded of the pneumatic tyre industry).

pre-run and start [photos: 7t / dani / official photographer]

The gardens were redesigned and over time the estate began to be subdivided and sold off for residential developments. The house and the formal gardens eventually became part of the North London Collegiate School complex which remains to this day. Also, some of the original garden features still exist in and around the adjacent side streets such as the 'Seven Acre Lake' plus the Pond and 300 year old trees which line Canons Drive.

Around eighteen hectares (44 acres) of the original estate were purchased by the local council as demand for recreational facilities grew and 'Canons Park' opened. In the 1930s, the council laid out the George V Memorial Garden within the walls of the original houses' kitchen garden - it is said that Queen Mary (wife of George V) visited the gardens but they were closed, so she departed. The memorial garden is an immaculate, serene space and well worth a visit.

the first part of the lap [photos: 7t]

The modern day park features a combination of various outcrops of trees and open grass areas and if you look closely, signs of the past like the tree-lined Whitchurch Avenue which ran from the house down to the church. There is also a fair-sized children's playground, tea/coffee hut, and a woodland walk through an area called The Spinney which linked the house to St. Lawrence Church, this was originally a medieval church, but the main body of the original building was rebuilt by the 1st Duke, but its original 13th century tower was retained.

So after that rather long introduction, we should really move on to the point of this blog. On 8 October 2016 Canons Park parkrun had its inaugural event and in doing so brought the weekly, free, 5km run to the area. We travelled to the park by tube and alighted, as you'd expect, at Canons Park tube station which is on the Jubilee line.

the spinney [photos: 7t]

Alternatively the 79. 186 and 340 busses all stop fairly close by. If we had driven to the park we could have parked on a side road near the park which mostly allow free, on-road parking on Saturdays - however some of the streets have meters in operation. There is also a car park (£2) next to the tube station.

We arrived nice and early and bumped into the event director before heading over to the meeting point which is just outside the small brick building the 'Bothy' near the north-west corner of the park. This building houses the one and only toilet in the park and the 'Good Friends Cafe' which is really a tea/coffee hut (ie there is no seating or indoor space to use). Just before 9am the run briefing takes place at this point and the runners are then lead a few metres onto the grass to the start line.

end of lap [photos: 7t]

The course itself is made up of three anti-clockwise laps of the park plus a short start/finish tail. Underfoot is split between tarmac paths, a gravelly path through The Spinney and a little bit of grass. Road shoes should be fine for this course all year round and buggy runners will be fine here. It is worth noting that the paths are not terribly wide so filtering through can be tricky at certain points around the course.

The lap follows the tarmac path running south past the basketball court, the climbing boulder and the playground and then turns left just before the Donnefield Road entrance. Runners continue to follow the path as it meanders until they reach the southern end of the park adjacent to Whitchurch Lane.

finish [photos: 7t / official photographer]

Here another left hand turn leads the runners onto the gravelly path which weaves it's way past the church and through the wooded area called 'The Spinney' where evidence of a Roman tile kiln has been discovered. Just after entering this section, watch out for the low hanging branch, especially if you're tall. It was marked with a hi-vis vest when I visited and described as being an extra marshal (I love these quirky extras that some venues have). This part of the course features a long, very gradual incline until the runners reach the end of the wooded section and turn left to cut through the trees onto a short section of grass.

This leads the runners back onto the tarmac path which follows the wall of the George V Memorial Garden. At the end of this path, the runners turn left to start their next lap. Once all three laps have been completed, they turn right and head back onto the grass and into the finish funnel. Barcode scanning took place over near the Bothy, 87 people participated when I visited and the results were online about an hour later. I recorded my run and the GPS course data can be found on Strava, here: Strava Canons Park parkrun #3

post run [photos: 7t / dani]

At time of writing, the post-run social takes place at the Good Friends Cafe, but with no seating or indoor areas this is probably going to be less popular on the wet and cold days. Anyway, it looks like the event has got off to a great start and will go from strength to strength over the next few months. For me, the day turned out to be quite sociable as I bumped into quite a few familiar faces during the course of the morning. It was also my first face-to-face encounter with the elusive parkrun 500 club shirt (only 6 in existence at time of writing).

It was also good to see a fair number of locals taking part who were run-walking or walking. In fact 10% of the field finished in over 50 minutes (I don't think I've ever seen that hugh a percentage). It shows that after only three weeks this event is already seen as inclusive to all abilities, which really is a great position to be in. No doubt this is down to plenty of hard work by parkrun and the local event team.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Bognor Regis parkrun

Bognor is one of the oldest recorded anglo-saxon names in Sussex and was recorded in 680 AD as Bucgan Ora (meaning: Bucge's shore or landing place). For centuries it was a small fishing town which, like many other south coast towns also had a reputation for smuggling.

In the 18th century Bognor became an attractive home for wealthy Georgians, who came in small numbers and built large houses. One of these wealthy people was Sir Richard Hotham who purchased 1,600 acres of land and began developing Bognor, which was essentially a tiny hamlet, into a town. This included the building of his mansion 'Chapel House' which later became 'Bersted Lodge' then 'Aldwick Manor' and then 'Hotham Lodge'. It is now known as 'Hotham Park House' and has been developed into luxury flats.

bognor regis / hotham park

In 1929, King George V was ill and was advised to spend some time by the sea. He resided for some time in the hamlet of Aldwick, just to the West of Bognor. This lead to Bognor attaining the royal suffix 'Regis'. The 22 acre grounds of Hotham Park House were landscaped with the assistance of Kew Gardens, which included the planting many trees, shrubs and exotic plants, during the early 20th century. After the second world war, the grounds of the house were purchased by Arun District Council and turned into a public park.

As of 24 May 2014 , 'Hotham Park' became the home of Bognor Regis parkrun. We visited this venue on 15 October 2016 to run at event number 123. We made our way down to Bognor Regis on the morning of the event and parked in the small car park in the north-east corner of the park. At the time of our visit, the parking charges were 60p for an hour, £1.20 for up to 2 hours, or £2.40 for over 2 hours (we paid the full amount and stayed all day).

and we're off..

The parking charges vary depending on time of year [summer/winter] so please check the council's webpage for up to date information. As the car park is pretty small it's worth noting that there is another car park, the London Road Car Park - this is adjacent to the west side of the park - it's a little more expensive, but has more spaces.

Bicycle users should head straight to the meeting point of the run where there are some racks and fences to secure their bikes to. The nearest train station is Bognor Regis station and it's just a short walk to the park from here.

around the course

Toilet facilities are well covered - there is one block next to 'Hotham Park House', there's a second set over in the London Road car park, and lastly there are more toilets in the cafe. Although I'd imagine that these should only be used post-run by customers. It's also worth noting that if you are planning to stay at Butlins, it is right across the road so is perfectly placed for a quick Saturday morning run.

The park itself is lovely. It is quite compact and features a network of meandering paths. It looks as if most of the landscaping has been retained - in a way it's more like a big garden. There are no significant open grass areas to be found and no sports facilities. It does, however, have a miniature railway, two children's playgrounds, a boating lake (pond), a bandstand, a putting green, and a few conservation areas.

around the course

The meeting point for the run is on the path next to the boating lake, which is also in the shadow of the Hotham Park House clock tower, which was part of the original chapel that was demolished during the 19th century. The run itself takes place over four, clockwise laps of the park, with the first lap being slightly different to the following three. Underfoot is all tarmac so road shoes are the order of the day come rain or shine.

The entire route is flat and very twisty - the full lap of the park contains eighteen bends and I'd say six of these are tight enough to cause a reduction in pace. As mentioned above, the first lap is a little shorter than the rest and comes in at about 700 metres in length while the main loop (run three times) is just over 1.4km, this main lap also features a short section that is run along an alleyway just outside the western border of the park.

around the course

It's worth noting that the final section of each lap is also an access road for residents of the flats in Hotham Park House, so there is the possibility of interaction with a vehicle. The course also passes over the train track a couple of times on each lap, but as the train doesn't start running until late morning, there's no risk of a clash.

With this course being four laps, it's not long before the front runners catch up with the back of the pack so wherever you are in the field you will find that you will lap someone, be lapped or even both. The other thing to note is that the paths are mostly quite narrow so filtering through can be a little tricky as the laps progress, especially as this venue attracts almost 200 participants every week.

the finish

Once I had finished my run and had my barcode scanned (unusually, this happened in the finish funnel itself), I went off for a cool down and to thank/chat to some of the marshals I had spotted around the course. One of them, Derek, has his own permanent marshaling spot and as we chatted, I noticed that all of the runners seemed to know him by name and thanked him as they passed or left to go home.

As we had had a pretty long drive, we decided that some refreshments were in order so we popped into the Hotham Park Cafe for breakfast and a coffee. The building has only recently been built (opened in July 2015) and it offers a lovely spot to relax after a the run. We followed this up with a ride on the 12 1/4 inch miniature railway - we sat in the carriage named 'Pickle' and were taken around by the engine 'Boris' - he got his name from the words 'BOgnor RegIS'.


The results were online a couple of hours later and there were 185 participants at event 123. I had recorded my run using Strava and if you would like to see the course in more detail, feel free to have a look at my data: Bognor Regis parkrun.

After spending a a few hours down at the seafront (only five minutes from the park), we decided to head home. We'd had a great day out at Bognor Regis so were pleased that we'd made the effort to get up and out so early in the morning to travel down. As for the parkrun, if you like twisty courses around pretty parks you simply have to get down here!

Edit / note: If Hotham Park is not available, the run has, in the past, taken place at King George V Playing Field, Felpham, which is used as a back-up venue. Make sure you check the news/social media pages before leaving home just to be sure.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Worthing parkrun

Worthing is a large seaside town in West Sussex. Its name means "(place of) Worth/Weorð/Worō's people" and over the years has been recorded as Weoroingas, Ordinges (1086), Wuroininege (1183), Wurdingg (1218), Wording or Wurthing (1240), Worthinges (1288) and Wyrthyng (1397). Worthen was used as late as 1720.

It was a small fishing hamlet for many centuries until it developed into a fashionable Georgian seaside resort during the 18th century and was popular with the well-known and wealthy people of the time. The growth continued and Worthing is now also a borough with 9 districts.

Its coat of arms contains three silver mackerel, a horn of plenty overflowing with corn and fruit on a cloth of gold, and the figure of a woman (most likely Hygieia, the Greek God of Health) holding a snake. The town's motto is 'Ex terra copiam e mari salutem' (Latin), which translates into 'From the land plenty and from the sea health'.

We travelled to 'Sunny Worthing' (as the town is known) to take part in Worthing parkrun, which had its inaugural run on 11 June 2016 and since then has consistently attracted over 200 runners - the official average number of runners per week at the time of our visit was 245.3. The course is an all-tarmac (finish line on grass) out-and-back and is totally flat. Please note that the promenade is a shared-use space with cyclists, so try to stay aware of any bikes approaching and don't make any sudden sideways maneuvers without having a quick look over your shoulder.

There is a note on the venue's page that there is the risk of cancellation if the stones from the beach are washed onto the path during inclement weather, so keep this in mind. It's also worth mentioning that the Worthing Festival takes place during the last two weeks of July and this could lead to cancellations, so be sure to check before making plans to visit.

We drove into the town using the A259 Brighton Road and had to find somewhere to park. There were a few options - the closest are the Beach House East and Beach House West car parks which can be accessed from the main road just next to the Splashpoint Leisure Centre. In the end we found a spot on the seafront right next to the parkrun start area and fed the machine with enough change to cover us for three hours which cost 20p per 12 minutes (£1 per hour).

I have a parking tip for you! If you arrive early enough and fancy a warm-up jog before the run - drive along the seafront for about 1 mile (to the west) and park for free in one of the roadside spaces next to the seafront - we considered this option, but as my daughter had decided that this would be a buggy running day coupled with the nasty rain clouds that were rapidly approaching, I decided that we needed to park closer to the finish so we could easily grab a change of clothes and towel post-run (my best decision of the day, I think). No 'Sunny Worthing' for us today!

If you travel to Worthing by train, you have the choice of alighting at Worthing Station or East Worthing Station. The main Worthing Station is a little closer but there's not much in it. There is also a West Worthing Station but this is further away from the start/finish areas. If you travel by train watch out that you don't run into a knucker (a kind of water dragon) during your walk to the beach - folklore says that a Knuckerhole (a very deep or bottomless pond) exists (or existed) not far from East Worthing railway station.

Cyclists in the town are catered for by the dedicated cycle lanes which run along the seafront, so travelling by bicycle is a real option for many. There are a few different options for securing a bike - there are loads of racks outside the main entrance to the Splashpoint Leisure Centre, there are also more cycle racks on the promenade at the Splash Point (see below for more info) and finally there are some outside the post-run coffee venue 'Coast Cafe des Artistes'.

Toilets can be found along the promenade and the official course page suggests the Pavilion (next to the pier) or the Lido (a bit further along) as the closest toilets to the start of the run. I couldn't find the ones at the Pavillion but did find some at the Lido which worked out fine, but note that they are about 700 metres from the pre-run meeting point so leave enough time to get there and back. I read something on the promenade that suggested that the leisure centre may have some, but didn't pop in to verify this - also as these are not suggested on the main Worthing parkrun page, it may worth avoiding them.

The pre-run meeting point is on the promenade in front of the listed Beach House Mansion (the large bright white building) and the run starts just to the west of the Splash Point - This fairly recent addition to Worthing's promenade features a grove of Tamarisk trees, engraved slate boulders and a water feature. From this point, the runners head to the west along Marine Parade for the 'out' part of their five kilometre Saturday morning run. On the day we visited, the dark clouds had now reached Worthing and the day's 182 runners headed off into a delightfully miserable, rainy headwind.

After 300 metres the runners pass the grade II listed Worthing Pier which was originally built in 1862 and remodelled in 1935 after being partly destroyed by a fire in 1933. It was used on the album cover of Indie band Gene's compilation album 'To See The Lights'. In 2006 it won The National Piers Society's 'Pier of the Year' award. It has also been used since 2008 for the Worthing Birdman competition, however the 2016 event was cancelled and it looks like it may not return.

Further on, the runners pass the Lido - this started out as a bandstand and as the popularity of band music declined, it was turned into an unheated, open air swimming pool. The swimming pool was eventually built over in 1989/90 but retained its name when it became a Family Entertainment Centre. By this point of the run I couldn't actually see anything as my glasses were covered in rainwater so I spent the rest of the run peering over the top of them.

We continued along the promenade, past the Canadian Memorial Stone and flag which honours the Canadian men and women that were stationed in West Sussex and Worthing during WW1 and WW2. There are all sorts of exotic looking palm trees towards the western end of promenade and before I knew it, we had reached the turnaround point which was marshalled and marked with a cone.

Heading back with the wind giving us a nice little push was much more pleasant than the outgoing section had been, but we were already soaked from head to toe and were both looking forward to drying off. During our return journey I managed to spot the Dome Cinema (another listed building) which is one of the oldest working cinemas in the UK. It was constructed by Carl Adolf Seebold (Swiss) in 1910 and opened in 1911. It was originally called 'Kursaal' (in German it's a public building in a health resort, where entertainment is provided) but with the start of WW1, the locals became increasingly anti-German, so a competition was held in 1915 to find a new name.

I've mentioned that this course is an out-and-back, but the finish is not in the same place as the start. So when returning we ran straight past the start line, across the Splash Point, past the post-run cafe and the artist's huts, and were then directed into the grounds of the Beach House where we followed a curved path around to the finish line on the grass.

We were given our finishing token and headed straight over to get it scanned. By this point, the rain had eased off a little, however the dry period didn't last for long so we hurried back over to the car to dry-off and change clothes. We returned about half-and-hour later to have some coffee and breakfast in 'Coast Cafe des Artistes' which was delightful. Behind the cafe, there is a children's playground and the Worthing Sand Courts which can be booked for beach volleyball, beach soccer (football?) or beach tennis (and more).

The results for event 16 were processed a few hours later and despite a very slow start from the back of the field we were pleased with our efforts for the morning. If you'd like to see the course in more detail please head over to Strava and have a look at my GPS data from the run, here: Strava: Worthing parkrun 16. It's a very fast course and could be one for a pb attempt providing you can avoid the wind which seafront venues tend to suffer from. We left feeling happy that we had visited Worthing and the wife says that we should go back, but just maybe when the weather is a little better.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Dartford Harriers Club Champs 2016

The Dartford Harriers Club Champs are held each year at the end of the track season and is an informal event which lets athletes compete in any event they wish. It's a great opportunity for runners to try their hand at a field event and vice-versa. Even though it is informal and friendly, the races are all officially timed and included on the Power of 10 website [my athlete page].

Although the opportunity was there I decided to play it safe and stuck with the track for my events. I had put my name down for the 400 metre and the 1500 metre races. We wandered over to Central Park Athletics Arena with plenty of time for me to collect my race number and we found a decent spot to hang out and watch the proceedings.

1500m start and early race

My first race was the 1500 metres, a distance I had never raced before. Although I have done enough 1 mile races to understand what it would be like. Three and three-quarter laps of the track for this race. The starter's pistol was fired and I headed over the inside lane and settled in nicely behind my team mate Matthew.

The pace felt a little easy through the first couple of laps, but I felt like staying in the position I was in would be best. It crossed my mind a few times to move past my team mate, but I think I was held back because he is a faster runner than me and thought it best to stay behind and trust that he'd drag me along to a quicker time.

1500m mid/end race and bronze medal under the rainbow

Had I been alone I would definitely had run those middle laps harder, but I didn't and I followed my team mate right to the end in an official time of 5.24.87, which was roughly around the time I had thought I would run. In retrospect I think I should have bitten the bullet and pushed ahead on lap 2 or 3 to see what would have happened.

After the race, I had about 21 minutes to rest before the 400 metre race was due to start. For this one each runner is assigned a lane and the start points are staggered around the first bend. This is where I was seriously out of my league! Most of the runners here were track specialists whereas I really am not.

400m start

I was assigned lane 2, which was a familiar place to be as this is the lane I train in when I run my track sessions each week. However it was clear from the moment the starter's pistol was fired that I would be trailing the others by a significant amount.

I ran a 400 metre race in the early summer of 2015 in a time of 67.5 seconds so I had that in mind as a rough time to aim for. However it was a little windier at this event and I was almost blown into lane 3 as I rounded the final bend. The last agonising 100 metres were into the headwind and I knew that I'd be a few seconds adrift from that target.

400m end (I was so far behind!)

My official time was confirmed as 70.29 seconds and I was just happy that I could now stop running at such a hard pace and focus on training for the forthcoming cross-country season. We'd had a nice afternoon out at the club so thank you to everyone that worked hard to make it happen. As a bonus I got a bronze medal in the 1500 metre race for finishing 3rd senior male - to be fair there were only 3 senior males in the race, but it was all for fun and it's nice to have a little memento from the day.

Thanks to Dani and to Richey for taking the photos I have used here.

Power of 10: 1500 metre results
Power of 10: 400 metre results

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